Learfield finding opportunities beyond athletics to a school’s entire campus
Learfield is using its sponsorship sales expertise in college athletics to bring new revenue to other parts of campus.
The University of Louisville, working with Learfield, recently closed two new corporate partnerships with PNC Bank and Canon, with each deal generating mid-seven figures annually over 13 years. Both PNC and Canon will have exclusive marketing rights in their category across campus.
Learfield, best known for managing sports marketing rights at 130 schools, teamed with university administration at Louisville to uncover the new partnership opportunities in banking and printing.
Campuswide sponsorships are typically much more complicated and cumbersome to put together than the traditional sports sponsorship, which is why there remains skepticism about their ability to generate significant revenue. But as the PNC and Canon deals show, campuswide partnerships can result in lucrative arrangements that benefit all aspects of the university.
“You’ve got to have buy-in from all across campus to get anything done and a lot of times you run into resistance,” said Mark Watkins, associate vice president of business services, at Louisville. “A lot of people have arrangements that go way back and they don’t want to change vendors, so they’re reluctant. You just have to keep working to get everyone aligned.”
When the school is able to package a service like printing into an exclusive deal that pays handsomely, that’s when campuswide marketing can really pay off, Watkins said. In the case of Canon, the company will assess all of the university’s printing needs and offer those products at reduced rates. Canon and PNC also are evaluating sports signage and advertising buys with the Cardinals.
Cal State Northridge
Long Beach State
San Jose State
Louisville intends to do more deals like these, possibly in communications and waste disposal, where vendors enter into long-term agreements as part of a deeper, exclusive partnership.
“Many universities are suffering from declines in state funding, so we’re finding there’s more of an appetite for this kind of campus marketing,” said Learfield’s Solly Fulp.
Fulp, a former University of California administrator, helped his former school use its campuswide assets to create new revenue streams and alleviate crippling debt. Learfield hired him away from Cal last year to launch a campuswide marketing division called Campus+ that consults with universities unaccustomed to selling sponsorships on their own.
Learfield in its first year has signed 10 Campus+ clients — Cal State Northridge, Colorado State, Long Beach State, Louisville, Missouri, North Carolina, N.C. State, Purdue, San Jose State and Texas A&M. In each case, Learfield has separate contracts with the university — one with Campus+ for campuswide marketing and another for athletics.
“It is disruptive,” Fulp said of Campus+. “It is a new way of doing business. Many universities are defined by silos, and in some cases they’re fortified castles. This requires administrators to work together and have a much better value proposition.”
Louisville’s Watkins learned the challenges of selling a corporate partnership firsthand by running point on the Canon and PNC deals. He was primarily responsible for getting the university’s leaders aligned, organizing planning meetings that could include 40 to 50 administrators, staff and students.
“You’ve got faculty senate, staff senate, students, operations, senior leadership, and they all have to be on the same page,” Watkins said. “One of the tricks to these deals is making that happen. You paint the vision and then you make sure everyone is on board. But that can come with some reluctance.”
Louisville started the process by consulting with Learfield on what its partnership opportunities might be. School officials identified three priorities — increase revenue, decrease expenses and improve services and technology.
Banking and printing were two categories that were easy to identify because they are prevalent across campus and they serve necessary functions. Louisville had three different banks with a presence on campus and too many printers to count. A new goal quickly emerged — create an official bank and an official print provider with exclusivity for each. That would mean cleaning up both categories, but it also would create greater value for the brands.
“This is not a transactional play,” said Canon’s Todd Shaw, who oversees the company’s higher education deals. “These are mostly long-term, exclusive deals, 10 years or longer. That’s where the landscape is changing.”
While Watkins worked across campus to keep everyone informed, Learfield’s Campus+ regional sales executives and local sales team began stirring up the marketplace. By the time the university issued an RFP for banking and printing, several candidates showed interest. For example, seven banks went through the full presentation process before PNC emerged. Canon survived a similarly competitive bid process.
Learfield stepped back once Louisville moved into the RFP phase. Its work as a consultant and sales agent was done by then.
“I was a little skeptical at first because I didn’t know what value the Learfield team brought,” Watkins said. “I was pleasantly surprised. Their network is so broad, we were able to get C-suite people in the room. That helps you take the conversation from a vendor deal to a truly strategic partnership.”
Learfield is working with other schools to identify similar opportunities. One of its other Campus+ clients, Texas A&M, just issued RFPs for official credit union and official bank. Another client, Colorado State, signed a $38 million, 15-year deal with Canvas Credit Union that included naming rights on the Rams’ new football stadium.
“I really think this is how universities are going to do business now,” Shaw said. “They’re really starting to think with a more business-minded approach about ways they can leverage their partners.”